Gambling on the future
How legalized betting could fundamentally change sports journalism
Sports gambling is widely legal right now.
Perhaps you’ve heard?
My wife’s only connection to the sports world on Twitter is me and Lt.Gen Josh Allen, and even her social feed was flooded with ads for sports gambling. That’s how ubiquitous it’s become in 2022.
Last month, I wrote about the mix of legalized sports gambling and sports journalism for Global Sports Matters. The piece focuses a lot on how legal sports gambling impacts journalists themselves, rather than the impact on media companies themselves. To make a research connection and drawing on Shoemaker & Reese’s hierarchy of influences model, my piece was at the individual and routine practice levels.
There was no overarching conclusion, no grand unified theory of sports journalism and gambling.
But broadening the lens out a bit, I do think the wide legalization of sports gambling could have a lasting impact on sports journalism. I think that the changes to sports journalism won’t be overt, where reporters’ coverage is compromised due to insider trading, but more subtle.
Here’s where I start: Sports gamblers are EXACTLY the type audience news organizations want.
They are engaged. They care a whole awful lot. They read everything, and they are constantly looking for the latest news. They keep up with the news on multiple platforms.
Plus, they are willing to pay for news and information.
This establishes clear incentives for news organizations covering sports. As gambling grows, it makes sense that sports media and sports journalism to follow the money and seek that audience.
I see this potentially changing sports journalism in two fundamental ways:
The DEATH OF THE GAME STORY
OK, not really. That’s intentional hyperbole to make you stop in your tracks and react.
People have been declaring the game story dead since I was in college in the late 1990s, and it hasn’t happened yet. There will always be the need for sports reporters to recap games, to tell readers who won and who lost and what happened. This is especially true for high school sports, the coverage of which always seems to get left out of all of our “future of sports journalism” conversations.
All that being said, there’s a potential big shift that gambling could bring out here. Traditionally, sports journalism has been centered around game coverage. The game story is, to use an overused phrase from a few years back, the atomic unit of sports journalism.
But in this new world where news organizations are incentivized to produced coverage that appeals to gamblers, what happened is less important than what’s coming next. People with money on games already know who won and who lost and how their prop bets made out. What they’re interested in is who’s playing well, who’s hurt, who’s getting traded. Roster moves and injury updates, the kind of news that Adam Schefter, Adrian Wojnarowski and others have made so vital.
In this world of legalized gambling, Sports journalism could become less about the games themselves and more about the information surrounding those games. You can see a future where coverage of sports moves away from game coverage and becomes more focused on lineups and roster news, what my buddy Dr. Michael Mirer called “actionable information.”
Which brings us to the second potential change to sports journalism.
The DEATH OF THE FEATURE STORY
OK. More intentional hyperbole.
Wright Thompson, Tyler Dunne and Seth Wickersham aren’t going to be out of jobs anytime soon. The journalism world is large and contains multitudes.
Still, we come back to the incentives. What do gamblers want from sports journalism? They want actionable information — information they can use to place the smartest bet.
From my piece:
A gambler is not particularly interested in professional tennis player Naomi Osaka’s struggles with mental health, NBA star LeBron James opening a school for at-risk youth in Akron, Ohio, or Layshia’s Clarendon’s activism as the Women’s National Basketball Association’s first openly nonbinary transgender player. They’re interested in who is playing tonight, who’s hot, who’s hurt, and who might be traded.
Now, think of this from an editor’s point of view.
You’re looking to hire a reporter. With the caveat that it depends on the opening, are you going to hire someone who writes beautiful feature stories, or one who can both break lineup related news and keep up with the stream of personnel related moves?
You’re figuring out how to make the best use of the limited time, money, and space you have for sports news. Do you have reporters focus on feature stories that will be well done, or have them focus on the type of news that your active, engaged, paying audience is looking for?
Journalism norms would have you try to balance this as best you can.
Economic incentives would drive you one way.
That’s the challenge coming to sports journalism in this new world.
The Other 51
Episode 159: Perfect Little Marriage with Donna Ditota
Donna Ditota, who was recently named the New York State Sportswriter of the Year, joins Brian to talk about her career covering sports in Syracuse and Central New York.
Being Bona Pride Day, Donna and Brian naturally start with some St. Bonaventure talk. Donna, a 1983 graduate, tells Brian what Russel J. Jandoli was really like, and talks about how her experience as a basketball player continues to inform her work to this day. It’s all about empathy, an underrated trait for journalists.
Donna traces her career path from St. Bonaventure to her current gig as an award-winning Syracuse men’s basketball beat writer for Syracuse.com. She tells Brian what makes Jim Boeheim so great to cover, why open locker rooms are so important to sports journalism (and why Zoom interviews suck), and walks through her process in writing a profile story.
Find out what life is like as a ACC men’s basketball beat writer and voter in the AP Top 25 really looks like, and also why transcribing is the worst, but also the best.
Subscribe to The Other 51:
The best thing I’ve read lately
I recently realized that I’ve been asking people this on The Other 51 for nearly six years now, but I rarely talk about it myself. So, here we are:
There are good writers.
There are great writers.
And then there are those writers who are so good, who build worlds so beautifully, who make you care about characters so deeply, who turn phrases so effortlessly, who transport you to a world you never knew you wanted to visit but now never want to leave, that it makes you insanely jealous and sad because you realize you’ll never touch their talent.
Anyway, yeah, the new Colson Whitehead book is insanely good.